It’s crazy. Not much more than a month ago I was stood on top of Scaffel Pike, the highest mountain in England.
Prior to that it had taken us 15 months to go from standing on the peaks of Snowdon to eventually stand on top of Scaffel.
Ben Nevis was the long shot of the three. The hardest, the furthest and the most daunting. It was one of those ‘one day’ scenarios that we honestly thought would come no earlier than next year, 2021.
Although with the nature of this year, I figured time was of the essence and had the idea of trying to do Ben Nevis as soon as possible, especially as international travel is supposed to be problematic still. Fortunately my friendship group were on board with the idea and less than 2 weeks before the supposed trip date, we’d booked accommodation and were set to go!
Ben Nevis stands 1345 metres high – putting it well above the previous 2 climbs we had done. Scaffel summit standing at 978 metres and Snowdon at 1085 metres. This alone made it instantly command more respect; the climb would surely take longer despite the supposed ‘softer incline’.
Upon researching it seemed there was a regular route that was most used by tourists which takes 4 hours on average (yep, up AND down). There’s also scrambling routes like there are on the other two three peak mountains but we decided to be smart and stick to the tourist/most popular route. Both for safety and just to suit everyone we climbed with.
Anyone who read my write up on Scaffel Pike will know I like to push myself as hard as possible on these climbs – and a fast time is my primary objective when doing these mountain runs.
I’d read the fastest ever time for Nevis was 1 hr 25 mins. I half fancied myself for 2 hours or just under. That was the lofty goal anyway.
We started with a customary group photo and then ran the stopwatch as soon as we crossed the start line. 2 hours and 25 minutes later I reached the summit……….
The sweat on my joggers below was indicative of the exertion needed and the amount of water lost. The temperature was 25 degrees at the bottom of the mountain and 15 degrees at the top! This is freak weather for Scotland, let alone Ben Nevis.
The heat made climbing harder as water loss became a real obstacle. Two near-litre bottles weren’t enough. They were enough for the ascent but not the descent. At the top I was waiting 30 mins for the next person in my group to make it up. Then another 20 mins for the remaining guys to join us. Once the photos were taken and we’d enjoyed the moment it was time to do the part of mountain climbing everyone despises……….
Come back down.
It’s going with gravity. It’s generally quicker and you know the hard work’s done and yet it’s a real grind as well. Your quads take a raping and your toes get rammed into the front of your boots 1000’s of times over.
At the bottom I drank 2.5 pints of full fat coke straight and a full bottle of water. And I could have drunk more! That’s the extent of my dehydration and what a sweaty bitch I generally am.
Although my time was over an hour and a half faster than the reported average climb time, it was bitter sweet in a way as when I reached the top I was informed there was a shortcut about half way up that skipped the long path around the lake. This skipped up to 45 minutes! Where I was always gunning for the absolute fastest time possible, I couldn’t help but fantasize about what might have been had I went that way.
I approach everything from a training/’sciencey’/body standpoint and I came to the following conclusion: 35-45 mins less overall time spent in a high heart rate zone (average around 140-150bpm!) = less fatigue overall, which equals more power output generally, which then should equal a slightly faster pace throughout. Couple the faster pace with the shorter route and it’s not inconceivable at all I could have got well under the 2 hour mark??
Irrespective, the time I got was still rapid and I put my heart and soul into the climb. I crawled along at points and did doubt I’d make it but these are the moments you feel alive. I couldn’t forgive myself if I went through life always taking the easy options and never experiencing the physical/mental battles associated with the wonder that is exercise and physical movement.
The scenery battle – Scotland, England or Wales?
Having done all three major mountains, the inevitable question and comparison discussion arises. And it’s a fascinating one as they all magic moments and memories associated with them, but no good man sits on the fence; he makes decisions and chooses so here goes…….
In terms of scenery and sheer scale of unspoilt beauty/rural landscape, Scotland was on a level I’d not seen. We stayed just north of Loch Lomond National Park – in a small town called Kilin. So to get there we had to drive right through Loch Lomond National Park – and we done this twice over as Ben Nevis was nearly 2 hours across Loch Lomond from where we stayed.
The drive from London is a whopping 8 hours or so but when you add in stops and account for traffic/diversions, it ends up closer to 10 hours total. However, the last hour or two was the most enjoyable as this was where you just marvel at the sheer scenery on display. It’s so vast and so untouched. There are lochs and mountains everywhere!
North Wales and the Lake District are stunning in their own right but I think there’s a certain element of remoteness the Scottish highlands add that you don’t get with the others. Just being that far north gives you a different feeling altogether.
Physically Ben Nevis is the most challenging as well, purely because of the sheer length of the climb. Snowdon goes down in my memory as the easiest but then I paced that for the first third of the climb to then step on it later. I’d like to have another stab at Snowdon where I race out the blocks and go as fast as I can throughout, then I can truly judge it.
Scaffel Pike has the strongest ascent but is the ‘shortest’ so it’s swings and roundabouts really. When we climbed Scaffel had the worst weather too, although it was still clear and around 16-18 degrees! When we were discussing the idea of climbing big Ben Nevis we were totally prepped for it to have the worst weather but it was glorious! We’d lucked out there, we’d found one of the 16 days (on average) per year where the skies and views from the top were clear. Not only were they clear but they were pure blue and you could see for miles!
Asking this so soon after the event has got me saying ‘NOTHING UNTIL NEXT YEAR!’ but as the days go on and you get the trip out of your system the idea of more becomes increasingly appealing. Ireland’s tallest mountain is ‘Carrantouhill’ standing at 1038 metres above sea level and I’ve often liked the idea of climbing this bad boy.
There’s also European mountains……….’Gerez’ in Portugal stands 1500 metres or so high, there are many mountains in France and the Alps over the 2000 metre mark, too.
Another option would be to try and do the classic and infamous ‘Three Peaks Challenge’ where the goal is to climb all three mountains within 24 hours! It would be a real beast and one you’d have to dig seriously deep to get through. One of the climbs would be in the dark and the constant travel and lack of sleep would grate on your state of mind. But in a sick way I find it appealing and can only imagine the sense of achievement you’d feel when you complete it. I’d love to raise money for charity in the process while doing that.
Time will tell. I shall leave you with a library of photos from the trip. Thanks for reading and I HIGHLY recommend climbing Ben Nevis and checking out the immense landscape.
Until the next adventure………….
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